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Theology > Salvation > Work of Salvation > Conversion > Faith


Faith and repentance are the immediate manifestations of conversion. It is foolish to discuss which comes first, for they both occur simultaneously; they are two sides of the same coin. In Redemption, Accomplished and Applied, Murray writes: “The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance” (113). Thus he combines the two words and speaks of them as unified: “penitent faith” and “believing repentance”—a creative way of describing conversion.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). But what exactly is faith; how is it to be understood?

Comprehensive and complex are two characteristics of faith. An entire chapter in Scripture is devoted to this single and significant word—Heb. 11. Traditionally faith is presented under three headings: notitia – refers to a notion, a conception, a knowing; speaks of the intellect, cognitive content, truth, testimony, knowledge of Biblical propositions (Jo. 14:11; 20:31; Rom. 10:9; I Thess. 4:14; I Jo. 5:4); assensus – means to assent or to agree; speaks of agreement, an admission; conviction, emotional, belief, assent; fiducia – speaks of trust, assurance, reliance, confidence; involves the volitional; idea of  resting and commitment. To speak of these three dimensions reveals that faith is all-inclusive, that is, it affects the whole man; man in his unity exercises faith as it is given to him by God. Faith is an act involving all that man is.

These elements of faith—knowledge, assent, and confidence—belong to the work of the Spirit; all three have a spiritual reality rather than a natural reality; and these three, in the sense that a believer possesses them and manifests them, can only belong to a believer. It is true that a natural man may have a natural knowledge, acceptance, and reliance, but in no sense can the sentiments of the individual be declared saving.

Interesting questions are whether faith is an exercise of the mind or the will, whether faith is essentially intellectual or volitional—such reflections would appear to emphasize a part of the consideration at the expense of the whole. It must be affirmed that faith is an experience of the person, including and flowing from all that the person is. When the sinner is awakened (see: Regeneration), it is the awakened sinner that is blessed with faith as a grace from God, and then it is the awakened sinner who exercises this faith that he has received. It must be remembered that faith is not the exercise of the natural man but is the inevitable response of the one who has been given spiritual life; the one who is in Christ confesses Christ. But unless one is in Christ, one cannot confess Christ.

Faith is not the ground nor the cause of our salvation; rather faith is the instrument of salvation, that it, it is the means or channel of salvation. We are saved through faith, by means of faith, for faith is the conduit through which we receive salvation. This must be true, for faith itself is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). It is God who initiates the faith (Acts 13:48; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29), and the faith that God initiates in the individual is then given back by the individual to God, that is, the entire focus of the faith is God—we give to God what He gives to us. Faith is anchored in God not in that which is of man: faith is Theistic not humanistic. Faith in all of its dimensions is related to God; Paul writes:

My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:5).

Thus, it is improper to think that faith is a condition that man must meet in order for grace to be extended; this would transfer the origination of salvation from God to man. The belief that God does what He does because of man is improper; rather, man does what he does because God has done what He does. Faith is not a meritorious work that is offered to God, rather faith is a grace from God that is given back to God; and it is through faith, the channel, that man is saved—saved by or through faith but not because of faith.

Faith is a decision, not a decision made by the individual alone, not a decision made with assistance from God, but a decision made because of the transformation that grace brings to the life; faith is the only valid decision, because the only truly free decision is a decision for right, a decision of obedience, a decision for God. All other decisions are decision for evil, which are indicative of slavery, slavery to sin.

Faith flows from and indicates spiritual life. The knowledge of faith, therefore, is a spiritual knowledge and not merely a natural intellectual knowledge; one may know facts about Scripture and understand the Bible like one understands a history book, but the natural man in his pursuit of knowledge does not know and cannot understand, and, therefore, does not interpret the Bible as the Wisdom of God—such a perspective belongs to the one who has been given spiritual life. The natural man cannot see the Kingdom of God; he cannot understand the spiritual. The idea that the words of the Bible contain the Wisdom of God does not compute; it cannot compute in the natural man, for his spiritual computer is dead.

Faith is conviction that God’s grace is sufficient for my spiritual need; that His grace is personified in the person and work of Christ; and that the proper response to His grace is to rest—to trust—in its expression, that is, the Gospel, and the Gospel is Christ. Faith is confidence in God and His faithfulness; faith is personal trust in Him. With this understanding it is possible to face life with an anchor that will hold.

The focus of faith is God (Heb. 11:1-2), and the focus of faith is Christ (Rom. 10:8-10). For the focus to be God is for the focus to be Christ, and for the focus to be Christ is for the focus to be God (I Jo. 4:15). Therefore, the concluding point is that Christ is God.

Faith alone saves but the faith that saves is never alone.

He does more than justify faith, He creates it. It is His more than ours. We believe because He makes us believe—with a moral compulsion, an invasion and capture of us (P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, 47).

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